By Atakan Uzun
We are coming close to the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season. It begins, this weekend, at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain on Friday, with Practice 1 and 2 taking place. It is the start of a new era of F1 cars, with new regulations, this season, designed to increase overtaking chances and wheel-to-wheel action.
Mercedes will be aiming to win their ninth constructors’ championship in a row, having won the previous 8 championships. With Lewis Hamilton, joined by new team-mate, George Russell, in the Mercedes squad, they will be as eager as ever to challenge for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. At the time of writing, based on the first test, having set the fastest lap time for the entire test, and the second-most mileage, behind Ferrari, with a total of 393 laps, across three days, it is likely that they will be closely battling Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren. My championship predictions for each driver at these early stages are, 1) Lewis Hamilton, and 4) George Russell. My bold prediction for this team is that Russell will outpace Hamilton in qualifying, but will struggle to live up to his pace in the races, and end up playing a number two role for his team-mate.
Red Bull will be hoping to clinch their first constructors’ championship, since 2013, during the glory days of Sebastian Vettel. Having narrowly missed out on the 2021 constructors’ championship, despite clinching the drivers’ title with Max Verstappen, Red Bull will be back stronger than ever, ahead of the new season. Returning with driver pairing Max Verstappen, who recently signed a new contract, which expires at the end of the 2028 season, and Sergio Perez, whose contract is ending at the end of the 2022 season, Red Bull will face an intriguing season on both sides of the garage. Verstappen will be hoping to retain his title, and the #1. Meanwhile, Perez will hope to build upon the foundations of the 2021 season, and improve this season, to match his team-mate’s pace on a more regular basis, which lacked at times during the 2021 season. If not, he could be at risk of losing his seat to former Red Bull driver, Pierre Gasly. So far, after the first test, they had the fourth-most laps turned in Barcelona, with 358 laps, across three days of testing. My championship predictions for both drivers are 2) Max Verstappen, and 6) Sergio Perez. My bold prediction for this team is that Perez will lose his seat at the end of the season, and may be replaced by Pierre Gasly, if he continues the form that he has shown in recent seasons with Alpha Tauri.
2022 is a huge opportunity for Ferrari. After 15 years without either a driver or constructor championship, this is surely the year in which Ferrari can finally break this drought. With the returning driver pairing, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, they are in a great position to move up the pecking order. So far, to date, the reliability of the car appears to be faultless, with evidence, showing from the Barcelona test, that the team turned the most laps with 439 laps. However, I believe, it will be a stretch for the team to challenge for the drivers and constructors’ championship this season, but they will be competing at the front, more regularly. My championship predictions for both drivers are 3) Charles Leclerc, and 5) Carlos Sainz. My bold prediction for this team is that Leclerc will beat his team-mate, Sainz this season, after trailing him last season.
McLaren will be looking to continue their seismic progress in the past three seasons or so. With driver pairing, Lando Norris, who, at the age of 22, is continuing to exceed expectations and show potential and maturity beyond his age, and Daniel Ricciardo, after he struggled in his first season with the team, they are in a stronger position than they have been, since at least, 2012. It is an important season for Ricciardo this season, to challenge more regularly at the front and match the pace of his team-mate, Norris. With a fast and reliable car, evident from the first test, they will be hoping to challenge at the front. My championship predictions for both drivers are, 7) Lando Norris, and 10) Daniel Ricciardo. My bold prediction for this season is that Ricciardo will struggle to match his younger team-mate Norris, like he did last season.
This is an important season for Alpine. With one of the best driver pairings on the grid, Ocon, and two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso, they have the drivers to deliver them, solid results across the season, as evidenced by last season. Despite having an average car, they only failed to score points at the Bahrain and US grands prix, last season. So far, indications are that the team has an improved car. While the team did not run the DRS (drag reduction system) at the first test, the team were fairly positive and optimistic about their 2022 challenger. Whether it is consistent enough to challenge the likes of Mercedes, and Red Bull, is another question. My championship predictions for both drivers are, 8) Fernando Alonso, and 11) Esteban Ocon. My bold prediction for this season is that Ocon will lose his seat at the end of the season, despite having a contract until the end of the 2024 season, to reigning F2 champion, Oscar Piastri.
Alpha Tauri will be hoping to continue their progress in the past few seasons to challenge more regularly at the front of the grid. Having clinched a win and a podium in the last two seasons, under star driver Pierre Gasly, this is another opportunity for them, against all odds, to challenge the bigger teams, such as McLaren. With a returning driver pairing of Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, who, undoubtedly, is an improved driver, compared to a year ago, they will be looking to spring a surprise, and secure an odd podium or two. My championship predictions for both drivers are, 9) Pierre Gasly, 13) Yuki Tsunoda. My bold prediction is that Gasly will go on to replace Perez at Red Bull, while current F2 driver, Liam Lawson will replace him in Alpha Tauri in 2023.
This season is crunch time for Aston Martin for several reasons. One because the team struggled to replicate the pace, shown by its predecessor, Racing Point in 2020. Second because its position in the pecking order, this season, could influence the future of veteran four-time champion, Sebastian Vettel. He returns alongside Lance Stroll. So far, it appears that their car has made improvements, but I do not think these improvements will be enough to convince Vettel to stay on for another season. My championship predictions for both drivers are 12) Sebastian Vettel, and 15) Lance Stroll. My bold prediction for this team is that Vettel will retire at the end of the 2022 season.
Returning with a revised driver pairing of Alexander Albon, who lost his Red Bull seat at the end of the 2020 season, and spent his 2021 season driving with a Red Bull-backed AF Corse Ferrari in DTM, he will be hoping to score points on regular occasions. Meanwhile, Nicholas Latifi returns alongside Albon. It is likely that their car has improved, and they have made steps, compared to previous seasons, but I do not think it will be enough to regularly challenge for the top six positions. My championship predictions for both drivers are 14) Alexander Albon, and 18) Nicholas Latifi. My bold prediction for this team is that Latifi will lose his seat at the end of the season, if he does not show any sign of progress this season.
Alfa Romeo, with a new driver pairing, will be looking to return to the speed, which they showed in the 2018 season, under Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson, where they scored points on regular occasions. With a new driver pairing, Valtteri Bottas, and the only rookie on the grid, Guanyu Zhou, they will be hoping to challenge for the points-paying positions throughout the season. However, so far, at the time of writing, the team has struggled in the first test with teething problems with its new 2022 challenger. My championship predictions for both drivers are 16) Valtteri Bottas, and 17) Guanyu Zhou. My bold prediction for this team is that it will rank behind Williams, again this season.
Last, but not least, Haas has attracted the most attention in recent weeks. At the time of writing, one of its drivers, Nikita Mazepin was dropped from the team, after the team lost one of his main sponsors, Uralkali, due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and the sanctions imposed, because of this invasion. Former driver, Kevin Magnussen has secured a return to the team with a multi-year contract, alongside Mick Schumacher. While they put all their eggs into one basket for this season, and wrote off their 2021 season from the get-go, it is likely that the team will struggle to make progress from last season, and is likely to be the slowest of all the 10 teams. My bold prediction for this team is that Mick Schumacher will leave the team at the end of the season, and will join Aston Martin to replace Sebastian Vettel.